Lime plaster for churches
Chris Burgess started out as an apprentice specialising in lime plaster work, driven by a fascination for old buildings. “I wanted to keep them in order,” he explains. “It’s a passion really,’ he adds, and one that he’s successfully passed on to his sons. His younger son works with modern plaster, while his oldest son Jamie has followed him into the business which they now run together. “I’m trying to pass on and preserve the skills, otherwise they’ll die out,” he says.
Based in Lancashire where they do the bulk of their work, Chris and Jamie specialise in lime and ornamental plasterwork, lime pointing, whitewashing, lime washing and distempers. Both are CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) qualified to do heritage work, and they work on churches and listed buildings, including recently the Grosvenor estate, as well as other period properties including private homes.
Lime plaster is hardwearing
The beauty of lime plaster, of course, is that it is a natural product which as been used for centuries because it is flexible, breathable and therefore hardwearing and long-lasting. Chris loves everything about the work of a lime-plasterer. “It’s the work you work on, knowing you’ve left your mark on a historic church or building, that’s the reward in itself, leaving a bit of a legacy behind, it’s brilliant,” says Chris.
A career highlight for Chris was working on the Victorian cloakroom at Wythenshawe Hall near Manchester, a job which took almost three months and involved some very skilled and intricate work to re-plaster everything correctly and get the extensive cornicing right. It was exhilarating because the building hadn’t been touched for years and Chris was having learn new skills on the job. “It pushed us to our limit,” he explains.
There is a lot of problem solving and visualisation involved in the work of a lime plasterer. “You’ve got to try and put your head in the heads of the people who built the building originally however many hundreds of years ago,” Chris explains. “When you start on a ceiling and dissect it, you make a note of everything, then put it all back in reverse order, with fresh materials, replicating what they did. Nothing is written down, you have to interpret. We also try to improve things, use a screw instead of a nail, for example, so there’s less vibration. There are all sorts of nuances.”
Recent church projects have been small scale repairs and maintenance jobs using the appropriate materials. One was a lime plaster repair to the Chancel at the G1 listed St. Helen’s Church near Garstang, Lancashire, while another was some repair work carried out on the G2 listed Greek Orthodox Church in Salford, where Chris with his son Jamie repaired the plasterwork and reinstated the plaster moulding around the window opening.
In his 30 year career Chris has never had so much work on, which he puts down to an increased interest in and awareness about old buildings. In the past “if a ceiling collapsed, people used to put plasterboards up or new materials, which can be too rigid and cause problems down the road such as trapping moisture,” he says. “You’ve got to understand the materials you're working with.”
Made locally, with a low carbon footprint
Nowadays, people are also much more concerned with using eco-friendly products. The lime plaster that Chris uses in either made by him personally for small projects, or is bought from the Lake District where it is made. “It’s a greener product, made locally, with a low carbon footprint,” he explains. While Chris is so busy that he and Jamie are actually having to turn down some work, he is always delighted to offer a free consultation and can be easily contacted via his website.
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Profile written by Olenka Hamilton